Brain Food #597

A great story can start from a bad idea

Thoughts of the day

The New York Times recently published a feature, in which they asked 75 creators from every imaginable art discipline to share things they made and learned during a year of living with, and through, the pandemic.

It has been a time many, if not all of us, will not want to remember. But it has also been a time that allowed for plenty of introspection, followed inevitably by retrospection.

There were seven questions in total. One of them was, “Did you have any particularly bad ideas?”

What came up over and over again was the concept of embracing bad ideas. Even those who always seem to be blessed with the best of ideas worry about having bad ones, more often than we assume.

People worry about having bad ideas. But very rarely does a good idea come first and easy. Bad ideas, like mistakes, are part of the process, and part of what can lead to a revelation. In the act of making, bad ideas are also part of a broader numbers game. A researcher went as far as examining how much of his work he eventually published, discovering that 75% of the 185 ideas he kept in his archives did not lead to any publications at all and, according to the criteria he said, less than 3% qualified to be considered as ‘good’. But without the remaining 97%, he would have never had the 3%.

Today, you can ask yourself what bad ideas you had this week, and write them down. Bad ideas also bring a sense of thrill with them in life. A common literary trope is to place a character in some form of trouble, and then attempt to remove them from it. A great story can start from a bad idea.


Thoughts on bad ideas:

Amanda Gorman, poet
I’m writing a book, and I can’t tell you how many times I’ve started over from scratch. But the bad ideas lead to the best ones. Sometimes you have to break down to break through.”

Aaron Sorkin, writer and director
“I have to have a thousand bad ideas before I can get to a good one.”

Issa Rae, actor and writer
”I don’t believe in bad ideas, just bad execution. So did I have any badly executed ideas that I ruined? Yes. I’ll blame them on pandemic production constraints.”